Omicron online/offline learning

March 9th 2022

Managing the Omicron online/offline flipflop

While there’s plenty of reason to hope that we’re experiencing the last days of the COVID pandemic, we are certainly not yet out of the woods. That’s especially true for schools in Aotearoa New Zealand, which, at the time of writing, are managing 25,000 children and teachers isolated with the Omicron variant, with 63% of schools managing cases.

Arguably, it’s the most complex stage yet for schools – instead of focussing just online, or welcoming students back fully, they’re managing both on and offline learning, and situations that change hourly.

Schools, teachers and principals are already performing brilliantly under tough circumstances. Here are a few ways they could make things easier.

Shift to more condensed learning

With at least some or all learning conducted online, it’s worth taking a moment to consider how each lesson can be condensed, with a focus on quality over quantity. The negative impacts of “Zoom fatigue” in adults are also seen in children, leading to eye strain, difficulty concentrating and muscle tension.

  • Is there an opportunity to deliver a short lesson, then spend a few minutes with each student one on one, or set individual work that can be conducted offline?
  • Can the day be split into chunks where students explicitly must or must not be on a call?

Make shifting between off and online your new normal

Some of the schools we support are building-in online learning as part of their day-to-day. This, of course, requires pupils to have easy access to technology, ideally with personal devices.

For example, one school is conducting all classes online one day a fortnight. This allows students and teachers to strength-test their technology and stay familiar with the rhythm of remote learning. It also gives teachers a breather if they’ve spent the week managing both online and offline learning. Children won’t necessarily need to learn from home – remote-style learning can be a matter of each child finding a spot in the classroom or elsewhere on school grounds.

Here’s what you could consider:

  • Choose one or two subjects to be conducted all online.
  • Allocate a regular day or days each month to move all learning online.
  • Set aside 15-30 minutes a day to move all learning online.

Reassess your technology

Take a look at the platforms and technology teachers and students are using – are they delivering the flexibility and functionality needed to get the most out of both online and offline learning? Do they make it easy for teachers? Look for technology that allows for breakout rooms, side conversations, commenting, questioning and screen sharing. Other tools like Miro boards and Google slides can also add fun interactivity to lessons. 

Stamp out the digital divide

Hybrid learning requires digital equality – with all your students equipped with equivalent devices. For many schools this is simply not achievable, despite early efforts to get devices into underprivileged homes. The goal here is equality of access, not technology for its own sake. For some schools that may mean maintaining a supply of devices ready to be sent home with students who need to isolate. For others, a shift to remote learning could look more like a correspondence course, with paper materials supplemented with a phone call from the teacher.

Set rules of engagement to protect privacy

Mixing classroom teaching with online is complex, leaving more room for mix-ups around privacy. For example, if a teacher’s video chat is projected in front of the class, any private messages from those learning from home will be visible to other students. Consider how you can manage these risks, either by setting rules or in the technology and platforms you use.

Keep online and offline students connected with group work

The risk of poorer learning outcomes is perhaps overshadowed by the social and emotional impacts of hybrid teaching. Even if your schools aren’t managing stigma associated with having to isolate, online/offline learning creates a clear divide between students. This can be especially hard for those online, who miss out on that important social connection. A smart way of combating this is to create opportunities for group work between those learning at school and those at home. These tasks could even make use of the students’ locations – with different resources available at each.

Build-in time for movement

We know people learn and concentrate better when their days are broken up with movement. Finding these opportunities is especially important if some or all of your students are glued to computer screens. Teachers will know what works best for them. Younger learners may love a dance break every thirty minutes, while older students may respond to lessons that build in movement – heading outside to collect data for a physics lesson or measuring increases to heartrate with different movements, for example.

Schedule one-on-one time with at-home learners

Students learning from home are missing that incidental one-on-one time with teachers – and there’s no way of replicating it remotely. However, you can at least keep the teacher/student relationship strong with regular check-ins. These don’t have to be long or structured – they’re just a few minutes each day or week for students to discuss issues, ask questions or just talk about their day.

Making the best of a complex situation

Even if your school isn’t yet dealing with closures or a mix of online and in-person learners, you’ve probably already considered how you’ll tackle it when, not if, it comes. The obvious factors are ensuring your students have equal access to remote learning and tweaking the way teachers give lessons, but there are other things you could do that will make a huge difference. That includes making some form of remote learning part of your everyday, even if you have no students or teachers isolating, finding ways to keep students connected and taking extra time for at-home learners.

With a little creativity and a lot of flexibility, we know New Zealand schools are giving their all for students. We’re proud to be standing behind you.

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